My stepfather had a collection of guns, in which he took great pride. Every time I brought a new boyfriend home, he would invite the fellow into his “shop.” Here he stored his collection, cleaned them, admired them, loaded his own shells and studied his NRA and American Rifleman magazines. I never pursued an interest in ballistics, but growing up in Oklahoma, I assumed it was normal for men to have this affinity with guns, to hunt rabbits in the fields or go once a year to a fancy game lodge somewhere in Wyoming or one of the Dakotas to hunt elk or deer.
As a student in college in the 60’s, I gradually changed my point of view. I became a vegetarian, protested against the war in Viet Nam, and finally, as a senior, decided I was a pacifist. I kept this belief in pacifism to myself, finding it difficult to admit it in conversation with others. The questions were impossible to answer, (“If your loved ones would be killed unless you …). To mention it was to label myself as radical and eccentric, and it instantly raised barriers to conversation or connection. So I didn’t.
When my boys were born, however, I quietly set out to raise them as pacifists. I never bought them a gun, nor any toy that would encourage them to “play” at killing, not even a water pistol. I banned violent TV programming, and finally TV entirely, and monitored their movie viewing until they were sixteen.
Since I never forbade them to make or find or even receive gifts I didn’t care for, they didn’t feel deprived. They soon discovered that a gun could be made out of anything – even a stick or a pile of Legos. Then they pointed them at one another, making the classic “Khuh, Khuh,” sound, from the age of three. When I said, “What is that, honey?” they would look at the stick or Lego-form quizzically and admit that they didn’t know exactly what it was, but it sure was fun.
I sent them to Quaker schools, and although I still didn’t mention my pacifism, I was pleased to see that they were studying “peaceful resolution of conflict.” I quietly refused to buy video game systems, but they saved their allowance to rent them and practiced until they could enter contests to win their own.
Today, all my boys are video game experts and action movie fans. Two have created video games as recruitment tools for the military. They know all about guns, but they are neither violent nor dangerous.
And me? I am a Pacifist with a capital P. I will tell anyone who asks, and lots of people who don’t. I seem to have grown into my beliefs while raising my children. Now they are growing into their own.